Security Trumps Ideology

Comparison of Land Reforms in Japan and South Korea during the u.s. Military Occupation

in Journal of American-East Asian Relations
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An important unresolved issue in u.s. policy in Asia after World War ii is the variation in the scale of land reforms in Japan and southern Korea during postwar American military occupation of these nations. The u.s. occupation authority in Japan conducted sweeping land redistribution, while the military government in Korea implemented very limited reform of landholding. This study asserts that the source of the variation lies in the different degrees of security threat to the two u.s. occupations. In Japan, the United States enjoyed a favorable security environment. No political force, either internal or external, challenged the authority of the occupation. Without fear of the islands falling to a hostile rival, u.s. occupation leaders focused on dissolving the concentration of wealth in rural society. By contrast, south of the 38th parallel in Korea, the u.s. occupation had to deal with challenges strong domestic Communist groups posed to its authority. In this unfavorable security environment, land reform might exacerbate existing chaos. The u.s. military government had to accommodate landed conservative elites as its governing partners to counter Communist organizations. Later, these former partners grew strong enough to block u.s. efforts to alter landholding and forced the occupiers to return home after only partial reform.

Security Trumps Ideology

Comparison of Land Reforms in Japan and South Korea during the u.s. Military Occupation

in Journal of American-East Asian Relations



David M. EdelsteinOccupational Hazards: Success and Failure in Military Occupation (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press2008) 6.


John M. Owen“The Foreign Imposition of Domestic Institutions,” International Organization 56 no. 2 (Spring 2002) 375–409.


Mark L. HaasThe Ideological Origins of Great Power Politics 1789–1989 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press2005) 32.


Allan R. MillettThe War for Korea 1945–1950: A House Burning (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas2005) 43.


CumingsLiberation and the Emergence of Separate Regimes p. 71 73.


MillettThe War for Korea 1945–1950 p. 46.


CumingsLiberation and the Emergence of Separate Regimes pp. 93–94.


Ibid. pp. 414–18.


Mark GaynJapan Diary (New York: William Sloane1948) 433.


CumingsLiberation and the Emergence of Separate Regimes pp. 351–81; Matray “Development Delayed” pp. 36–39; Jinwung Kim “A Policy of Amateurism: The Rice Policy of the u.s. Army Military Government in Korea 1945–1948” Korea Journal 47 no. 2 (Summer 2007) 224–26.


 See Hyun-su Jeon with Gyoo Kahng“The Shtykov Diaries: New Evidence of Soviet Policy in Korea,” Cold War International History Project Bulletinnos. 6–7 (Winter 1995/1996) 69 92–93.


Gi-wook Shin“The Historical Making of Collective Action: The Korean Peasant Uprisings of 1946,” American Journal of Sociology 99 no. 6 (May 1994) 1606.


MillettThe War for Korea 1945–1950 p. 105.


C. Clyde Mitchell“Land Reform in South Korea,” Pacific Affairs 22 no. 2 (June 1949) 148.


Eiji TakemaeThe Allied Occupation of Japan and Its Legacy (New York: Continuum2002) 344.


TakemaeThe Allied Occupation p. 340.


Shigeru YoshidaThe Yoshida Memoirs: The Story of Japan in Crisis (Cambridge, MA: Riverside1962) 197.


Gilmartin and Ladejinsky“The Promise of Agrarian Reform in Japan” pp. 318–19.


Eiji Takemae“Early Postwar Reformist Parties,” in Democratizing Japan: The Allied OccupationRobert E. Ward and Sakamoto Yoshikazu eds. (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press1987) 339–42.


Ibid. p. 349.


 For example on 20 May 1946scap issued a statement that it would not permit the jcp to continue to incite mass violence and would intervene to restore order. See “scap Warning to the jcp against Incitation to Mass Violence” 20 May 1946 scap Economic and Scientific Section Labor Division box 8497 rg 331 na ii.


ChiraCautious Revolutionaries p. 96.


TakemaeThe Allied Occupation p. 342.


ChiraCautious Revolutionaries pp. 99–102.


TakemaeThe Allied Occupation p. 344.

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